Justice Minister Judith Collins is putting judges on notice
that painfully slow delivery of reserve judgments will no
longer be acceptable.
She is planning an overhaul of the way courts are run, aimed
at getting faster judgments from slow judges, requiring audio
visual court appearances for procedural cases involving
prisoners, greater access to decisions for the public and
requiring all courts to have a consistent approach to
judicial conduct and recusal from cases - where judges stand
She says it will be the biggest reform in over 100 years of
how courts are run and she wants to introduce a bill to
Parliament by the end of the year.
Ms Collins is concerned about the length of time some
judgments take and she is sick of hearing that the best
answer to addressing delays is to appoint more judges.
"If I have heard that once I have heard it 100 times."
But with crime rates dropping and fewer people going into
court "it cannot be right; it does not compute".
Rather than imposing her own plan on what is a reasonable
time, she wants each judicial sector to come up with a plan:
the Employment Court, the Environment Court; the Maori Land
Court; the District Court, the High Court, the Court of
Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Cabinet has agreed to pass a law that will require the chief
judges to set protocols for their courts about reserved
decisions, including providing information on the progress of
decisions and on the number of judgments outstanding beyond a
reasonable time for delivery.
Judges would not necessarily be named and shamed, "not unless
that is the protocol," she said, "but I would say there is a
lot of public appetite for knowing what is actually happening
to people's cases."
Some courts are addressing the issue voluntarily, including
the High Court, and the court that Ms Collins points to as
the worst offender, the Employment Court.
But there will now be a statutory requirement for all courts
to address it.
She was particularly concerned about delays in the Employment
Court where the difference between hearings and judgments
being issued can be up to two years.
Ms Collins pointed the Herald to three judgments by the
Employment Court Chief Judge Graeme Colgan, one of which took
two years to deliver a judgment, and two others which took 20
"From my point of view it is totally unacceptable as the
Minister of Justice to stand by and let some cases,
particularly Employment Court cases, take 18 months or two
years for decisions to come out."
She said the issues of delay had been raised in the Court of
Appeal which had raised it with her.
Judge Colgan could not be reached for comment but the
Employment Court website states: "The judges of the
Employment Court expect that in 2013, 85 per cent of
judgments will be delivered within three months of the last
day of hearing or receipt of the last submissions, whichever
is the later date.
"From the 2014 calendar year, the Judges expect that 90 per
cent of such judgments will be delivered within that three
Ms Collins said some members of the bench might see her
actions as interference with judicial independence.
"The concept of judicial independence is something I take
very carefully. But my view is that judicial independence
relates to what is in the judgment, not whether or not we
Bar Association president Stephen Mills QC said timeliness of
judgments was "highly desirable".
"The issue of whether that is best managed as it is now,
internally by the heads of bench, or whether it is
appropriate it be the subject of some kind of legislative
direction is a matter the Bar Association will have a view
[on] when it looks more closely at what the minister has in
Another of Ms Collins' measures will require a consistent
approach by the courts to judicial conduct and what judges
should and shouldn't do in terms of appointments, activities
outside work and when they should recuse themselves from
Ms Collins acted as Attorney-General over the case of former
Supreme Court judge Bill Wilson, who resigned while fighting
allegations of misconduct for not recusing himself from a
case involving a business associate.
The Judicature Modernisation and Other Matters Bill is
expected to be introduced by the end of the year.
Require heads of bench to publish protocols about delivering
Require common rules across all courts on outside employment
or positions for judges.
Require guidance for judges who step aside from cases to be
Require all written judgments to be published unless there is
a good reason not to.
Allow court documents to be filed, held and issued
Require use of audio visual link for procedural cases
involving prisoners to reduce transportation.
Enable more specialist panels to be established in the High
Allow more civil cases to be heard in the District Court by
extending the current $200,000 limit to $350,000.
Give Chief District Court Judge powers to manage district
court judges' workload.